Margaret Gilmore RUSI On Al-Shabaab

wild_flowers_in_kenya17:38 Tuesday 24th September 2013
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

[C]HRIS MANN: Kenyan security forces are continuing to search the Nairobi shopping centre which Islamist militants stormed on Saturday. More than 60 people were killed in that. Three days of national mourning have been announced. There’s speculation the operation is coming to an end. The Somali Al-Shabaab movement said it was behind the attack. Margaret Gilmore is a Senior Research Fellow and expert on national security at the Royal United Services Institute, and she joined me a little earlier.
MARGARET GILMORE: Obviously we’re in the final throes. We’re hearing a lot of mixed rumours about what’s going on, but I think really we’re at the very final stages. I think we’re starting to get some firm information on who was involved. That will be the next on the line. We’re hearing rumours about the involvement of a British woman, but that hasn’t .. we have to treat that with a little bit of caution at the moment. I think in the next twenty four or forty eight hours we’re going to get very clear insight into the type of person who is involved, how many people have actually been captured, if any, and final numbers of the dead and injured.
CHRIS MANN: Now you study groups like Al-Shabaab, and try and work out what they’re about. So what have they achieved by this, and what do you think might be next? Some people are even speculating they could attack in Britain next.
MARGARET GILMORE: They’ve achieved global publicity. That’s the type of thing they want to promote their anti-Western ideologies. They’re pretty well known in security circles. We’ve had our own police and intelligence agencies along with the CIA working out of Kenya, alongside the Kenyans, and in Somalia, looking at them, dealing with them. Big concern, because we know that about at least fifty British nationals have gone out to train with terrorists in that area where Al-Shabaab is operating. So they are a threat to UK national security on that front, the worry being that if these people then return to the UK, are they returning to carry out attacks on the UK? Or are they going to go elsewhere to carry out attacks on UK or anyone else’s interests abroad? So these are big questions for the UK, and Al-Shabbab is a group that is known, certainly through our intelligence agencies and security forces.
CHRIS MANN: And this surely must be clearly a failure of those intelligence services that this has happened. So therefore they’ve failed.
MARGARET GILMORE: I wouldn’t call it a direct failure. I think a lot of the time people with links to this terrorist organisation are being arrested or are being stopped, are being undermined in some way or other. We hear of terrorist arrests and court cases all the time in the UK. They don’t get the kind of profile that an attack that gets through is going to get, obviously. But I think in Kenya they’re living with this day in and day out. They have had attacks. They get a small amount of publicity. This was just on a different scale, absolutely awful, but you can never prevent everything. And it’s just a shame this one got through, and as I say, on such an awful scale.
CHRIS MANN: A soft target, in a country which of course has its own problems. Is there more that can be done to help Kenya, and is that one of the things that people will be looking at now?
MARGARET GILMORE: Abs .. do you know what? Soft target, you’re so right. Children, and people going round shopping. And let’s hope that that’s an indication that they can’t get the type of targets they want. They can’t get to the UK. They can’t get to the US. They can’t get close to security installations. Let’s hope that is what that implies. Because as you say this was a soft target. The UK is helping the Kenyans. The UK police are advising throughout this whole incident. And we’ve got police in the region. We’ve got detectives and agents operating in the region, and we have had for some considerable time, at the same time as the Government were putting money into trying to shore up the Somali government. Because the stronger Somalia is, the more it has judges and legal systems and what have you, the more difficult and the more hostile the whole environment becomes in Somalia for people who are lawless, the terrorists who operate. So it’s a dual attack, and we are involved in that. In the interests of UK security we are involved in shoring up the government and at the same time work on the security front.
CHRIS MANN: As we’ve agreed it was a soft target. But still, a dozen or so people with AK-47s and grenades were able to stroll into a shopping mall. That does suggest that Kenya needs to tighten up its security. And I thought there were lessons learned from the ’98 US Embassy bombings, that would have prevented the reoccurrence of something like this.
MARGARET GILMORE: I think they’re very aware of it. They’re closer to it than we are, and they do have attacks out there. And I think it’s quite tough for them. But what kind of security are you going to put around a shopping mall? Are you going to have people going through .. you and I both remember Chris what it was like in Belfast in the 1980s, 70s, 80s, 90s. Are you going to stop people as they walk home and search every single person, and go through airport-style security? You can’t make everything secure. And a lot of this is down to intelligence, and in this case these people got through. It will be interesting to see who they were, when it all comes out.
CHRIS MANN: It will also be interesting to see what the response is of President Obama and other Western leaders to this. Because if it had happened in a Western capital, surely the reaction would have been stronger and quicker. Will it have the same impact because it was in an African capital?
MARGARET GILMORE: Do you know what? I think I am pretty sure that there was the UK policemen who happened to be there on site pretty quickly. I think we’ve got people working there already. I think we’re ahead of the game, working in those countries already. You just don’t go around telling the terrorists you’re there ahead of the game. The fact that we were there is a sign that they are making inroads, in my view. And if it had happened .. you know, they’ve got the global impact by doing it in Nairobi. They didn’t have to come to the UK is what they’ll be thinking, which is a shame, but I think that’s a sad fact of life.
CHRIS MANN: Margaret Gilmore from the Royal United Services Institute, thanks for joining me.
MARGARET GILMORE: My pleasure. I hope it was useful.